Frank’s last words
FAMOUS LAST WORDS One of those days. It’s been one of those days…
Just like people, sometimes bikes just don’t feel right…
Amoment of realisation struck me this afternoon, as they sometimes do. I’d been out powering around the greensward aboard possibly the best Norton ever built (electric start, good handling, great brakes, comfortable too) and had been riding like a complete bozo. This is, of course, not entirely unusual, but today I was riding a comfortable, compact and entirely conventional machine as though its tyres were flat, the steering head races seized and I was under the influence of something powerful. None of these was the case – any of them would have provided a perfect excuse. But no. No corner worked, a favourite set of bends was entirely unfamiliar and where there were four changes of direction I managed about 14. Pathetic.
Of course it was the bike’s fault. I decided several times during the rubbish ride that I would cease insisting that 400cc Norton twins are the best thing on the road since the Honda Cub, but would sell it first, before my in-print denunciation devalued the hideous junkheap.
But it was also a puzzle. I had been out on the same bike a couple of days previously, wasting time while waiting for a pal from the frozen wastes of Yorkshire to clatter up aboard his mid-70s H-D Behemoth Glide to complain about it. Which he did, but later. The point here is that on the previous ride – different route, same kind of roads, as is the local way – the Norton had performed perfectly and I’d enjoyed it considerably. Mock ye not; these actually are great little bikes. If slow.
Filled with indignation that the bike about which I’ve been singing praises from the very rooftops for some time now had finally behaved in the way its (many) knockers claim, it dawned on me that in my towering grump I’d forgotten to do whatever it was I’d gone out to do, so before domestic mockery set in I needed to go out again. On the Norton? Not. A. Chance.
I dragged out the mostly modern Triumph twin instead, pushed its starter button, observing that it sounds less like supertanker anchor chains being dragged over a tin roof than does the amusing equivalent on the Norton, and shot off back to M&S. We’re posh in Cornwall. Although the M&S is in Devon. I digress.
There was something wrong with the
Triumph. Its steering was all over the place. It was impossible to set up the many bends and corners properly. And the engine? It was always either revving off its big ends or lugging like a Panther 120 on full retard. What on earth was up with the thing? I’d been considering replacing it with a newer version of the same model, but it was plain I needed to think about this. I did the shopping and returned home. Slowly.
I mentioned a moment of realisation. This was it. I’ve been riding motorcycles – legally – for an entire half-century this very year. Fifty years on two wheels. That’s almost worthy of an exclamation mark. Almost. And despite… how many miles is that? Even at 10,000 a year average it’s a half-million miles. How’s that for a scary thought? And I still can’t get it right every time. Why not?
Probably because riding a motorcycle with any verve at all is a seriously complicated thing to do. And yes, I know full well that there are many riders out there who never think about their riding, they just get on, kick up and go. Never a second thought. I’ve never been like that, not really. When a chap rides mostly old bikes mostly always, the whole thing feels precarious somehow. So many things to go wrong with a capricious machine balanced on two small rubber contact patches, every ride intensified by the weary nagging worry that something will break, fall off or fail. I’ve had front brake cable nipples pull off several times, punctures galore, a rear wheel seizure on a Matchless while riding rapidly indeed down a Lakeland pass. It all adds up to that power of alertness which makes every completed ride into a successful adventure. Fifty years. A halfmillion miles, maybe. I am, I decided, entitled to an off-day every so often.
Which is a comforting thought.
The following morning I invented an excuse and took out the Norton again. It ran well. I rode well. My favourite sets of bends produced wide smiles and a need to repeat the ride through them. Motorcycling was an extraordinary discovery when I rode my very first machine over a half-century ago. The ride remains the same.
Never give up. Never surrender. Try again. Always.
“I dragged out the mostly modern Triumph twin instead, pushed its starter button, observing that it sounds less like supertanker anchor chains being dragged over a tin roof than does the amusing equivalent on the Norton, and shot off back to M&S. We’re posh in Cornwall”